Inside & Out: Stowa Marine Original Silver
How I got this watch: I contacted Stowa to request a watch for review and suggested the Marine Original or the Fleiger TESTAF 101. I was sent the Marine Original Silver Dial which I wore for two weeks. This is not a paid review.
The Stowa Marine Original is one of the most popular watches that the 90 year old German brand make. The demand for this classically styled watch has remained high with long waiting lists in certain markets. Wait lists are typical for watches costing tens of thousands of dollars, but a watch under $1500? What is it about the Marine Original that people love so much?
The Marine Original is based off Marine Chronometers made in 1939 for the German Kriegsmarine
Stowa began producing high grade Marine Chronometers for the German Kriegsmarine in 1939. To maximize legibility at night, the entire dial, excluding the hour markers, was coated in luminescent paint. Two months ago I spoke about my concerns regarding the Alpina KM-710, another watch whose history is tied to the Kriegsmarine, and it's only fair to offer my opinions on the Marine Original. If you are going to reissue a watch (or take inspiration from a design) issued to the Kriegsmarine then follow the lead of Stowa. The Marine Original keeps the best elements of its design without any of the historical baggage that weighed down the K.M-710. The original pocket watches did have the K.M. initials on the dial but Stowa chose to not include them in any of their Marine Original series. The contemporary Stowa logo along with the brand name in block capitals are 12 o'clock is used instead of the period logo at K.M. initials.
Stowa have made the Marine Original line since 2002 and there have been many variations in dial design and case material. The Silver dial version I have is one of the latest. From the moment I picked up the Marine Original, it is easy to see why people love these watches: concise design, impeccable construction and excellent value for money. As I mentioned in Vlog #016, I'm impressed by Stowa's willingness to allow small amounts of customisation on most of their watches. With the Marine Original, you have the choice of four different straps (black calfskin, brown or black crocodile and a steel milanaise bracelet), a polished or matte case finishing, a buckle engraving and an engraving on the main wheel.
The dial is made from solid sterling silver, though you may not be able to tell
I don't know what I was expecting to see when I read that the dial was sterling silver. Part of me wanted a coarse texture or a 'grain' that would differentiate the dial from other watches, neither of which were present. There is a difference between the matte silver and the glossy white dial on the other Marine Original but nothing extraordinary. The creamy silver dial is a pleasant color but I was expecting something more from the metal used. What I wanted I can't express in words and unfortunately I don't know the German compound word for "Feeling of disappointment for unknowable reason".
It's interesting to see how classic military timepieces evolve into modern wristwatches. The fidelity of printing on the large Arabic numerals and minute railroad track is crisp and precise with each number sized and placed on the dial for maximum impact and legibility. The printing the sub dial is excellent, though I will say that I've never been a fan of rotating numbers so they align at an angle with the edge of the dial. This is how the numbers were on the original pocket watch so I can't fault Stowa for including it here.
My favorite thing about the watch is the hands.
Real blue steeled hands are superior in every way to painted ones. The way that light hits treated steel cannot be replicated by paint and don't believe anyone who says otherwise. The poires style hands evoke the feel of vintage watches without being too cumbersome or outdated. Poires is a staple in traditional German Marine chronometer design and these hands are almost identical to the ones used in the original pocket watch from 1939. The two best elements of the hands is the faceted hour hands and the middle taper of the minute hand. Overlooking these small details would be easy but focusing on them is very rewarding.
The two facets on the hour hand allow light to play across each side, one side light and the other dark, brightening the muted colors of the dial. The middle taper of the minute hand adds an unnecessary, but wonderful, point of interest to the design and allows the hour hand to be more visible underneath. It's the kind of attention to detail that you'd expect on a watch costing twice or three times as much, not on a watch barely over $1300.
If there was one criticism of the design is that it's very conservative. Criticizing a marine chronometer for being conservative is the same as complaining that water is wet, but the Marine Original does take it a bit too far. Aside from the heat treated hands and circular grain on the subsidiary seconds dial, the design has little use of color or embellishment. The design isn't boring, it's Germanically stoic. If you're looking for a classic watch that tells time with no frills then this is a wonderful timepiece though some may find the watch lacks a certain something.
At 41mm the case size teeters on the edge of being slightly too big
The 41mm stainless steel case wears a few millimeters larger than its measurements suggests thanks to a high profile (12mm) and long lugs. It's not an egregious size but it is surprising that Stowa decided on this size for this vintage inspired watch. 40mm would be more wearable and at 39mm it would be a classic. Yet the decision to go with 41mm is not random, it was a conscious choice based on movement within.
Inside the watch is the Unitas caliber 6498
The Unitas 6498 is a classic hand wound movement. What started out as a Savonette/Hunter pocket watch caliber has become one of the most ubiquitous manual wind calibers in modern watchmaking. Simplicity and versatility are its strengths. Eberhard, TAG Heuer, Panerai, Sinn, Christopher Ward and countless others have all used the Unitas 6498. The large bridges are blank canvases with almost limitless possibilities for finishing, depending on the two ever present variables of life, time and money. Stowa chose to finish the Unitas with Geneve stripes, tempered blued screws and the Stowa name at six o'clock embossed in gold. Despite being a Swiss movement, the Unitas has a very German design that is reminiscent of the traditional 3/4 plate. It's quite shocking to see a Swan neck regulator on the watch, an variant usually seen on more expensive watches.
A regulator controls the available length of the balance spring which changes the oscillating rate of the balance wheel. The regulator points towards a 'Fast/Slow' scale and by moving it along the scale, the length of the balance spring is changed. The Swan neck variable is a staple of German design and is an elegant variation which offers a more secure way of regulating the watch. A curved piece of metal, the swan neck, provides constant pressure onto one side of the regulator. A screw on the other side balances out the pressure and keeps the regulator in one place. The swan neck is a beautiful creation of watchmaking that both looks great and allows for finer regulation than a standard regulator. The Swan Neck on the Marine Original might not have the same level of finishing as other German brands but it's nice to see it here in some form.
The size of the Unitas is on full display through the sapphire crystal back. The watch was designed to accommodate this particular movement and the case encapsulates the Unitas like a glove. No spacers, no small sapphire crystal window with huge steel bezel around it, just wide open space. At 36.6mm wide and 4.5mm deep, the pocket origins of the Unitas are clear but it looks wonderful within the case of the Marine Original. The Unitas has a power reserve of around 46 hours and winding felt good through the knurled crown. There is zero wiggle when changing positions and setting the hands felt quick and responsive.
The one aspect where the Marine Original fell flat for me was the strap. I know complaining about the strap is meaningless as it can changed within a few minutes, but it is part of the watch as sold so it warrants some discussion. The black calfskin with white stitching felt at odds Marine Original during my time with it, especially the thick double stitched keepers. Like a Naval Officer wearing his dress uniform with a pair of Adidas, the strap felt too casual and mismatched. Out of the available options from Stowa I'd take my chances spending the extra $80 for the black crocodile.
After spending two weeks with the Stowa Marine Original Silver, I appreciate why so many people have spoken so highly it. The Marine Original offers a well respected movement and a timeless design all at an astonishing price and at $1380, this watch is a bargain.